ALBUQUERQUE— Though she lived barely a week, Baby Altso’nibah Lucy Keeswood brought thousands of people together as she struggled to survive after being diagnosed with a version of Trisomy Syndrome shortly after her birth on October 6 in Farmington, New Mexico.
Trisomy 13 Syndrome is a rare genetic disorder in which a person has three copies of genetic material from chromosome13, instead of the usual two copies. The presence of an extra No. 13 chromosome causes an array of congenital disorders, including heart problems in 80 percent of trisomy 13 babies.
Baby Lucy’s father, Sheldon Keeswood Sr. (Eastern Band of Cherokee/Navajo) said they were attending ceremonies for his mother near Farmington when Mesha went into labor. An hour after her birth, Baby Lucy was flown to a neonatal intensive care unit in Albuquerque where she was diagnosed four days later with Trisomy 13.
“She was born with too many chromosomes in each cell and the doctors told us her organs would never properly develop,” said Lucy’s mother, Mashugashon (Mesha) Camp who is Lakota, Ponca and Hopi. “After the doctors told us that they were removing all the medical equipment because there was nothing more they could do, we went to a local hotel to spend every moment we could with her.”
Keeswood said, “We had the option to take her and be with her in her final hours, or continue her stay at the hospital until she left on her journey. We wanted all our family to be with her so we moved our family to a hotel.”
With Baby Lucy facing certain death, longtime family friend Dallas Goldtooth organized an online Facebook campaign to alert others about the family’s crisis, and to raise emergency funds for hotel and funeral expenses as the family held vigil over their dying newborn.
Attorney Kimberly Craven, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, paid their outstanding hotel bill and created an indiegogo.com account on behalf of the family that raised $1,100.
“The outpouring of prayers and support was overwhelming,” said Shanna Keeswood, the baby’s paternal grandmother. “We didn’t know what we were going to do until friends of our family stepped forward to help us. We are so grateful for all the love and prayers we received from everyone, some as far away as New Zealand and France.”
Baby Lucy lived for two more days constantly cradled in the arms of family members who began arriving from the four directions. She took her last breath at 9:40 pm on October 12 surrounded by family members from the Lakota, Navajo, Ponca, Eastern Band of Cherokee and Hopi tribes.
On her mother’s side, Baby Lucy is the granddaughter of Craig Camp and Stephanie Autumn, and former Oglala Sioux President Alex White Plume and his wife Debra. Her Dine’ paternal grandparents are Delvin Keeswood and Shanna Keeswood.
As the Native community learned about the tragic circumstances surrounding her birth and eventual death, many came forward with extraordinary offers of support.
Honoring Lakota traditions for her journey, a white eagle plume was sent to the family from Ute Sundance Chief Kenny Frost, who ensured the feather was hand-carried from Ignacio, Colorado to the parents in Albuquerque.
A custom Pendleton-lined casket made in Towoac, Colorado and baby shawl were donated by family and friends, and financial support began trickling in online and in a Well’s Fargo donation account #7939197740.
Funeral expenses were the family’s next concern as they had exhausted all of their resources while staying in the hospital and hotel. After a desperate appeal was made to numerous tribes, Chairman John Berry of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma stepped forward with his own private resources to help the family.
Likewise, in Albuquerque’s Native community several Lakota and Navajo families reached out to offer ceremonies, food, monetary donations, and prayers.
Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota relatives visited Baby Lucy to perform traditional ceremonies to send her on her journey the day before her flight. In Shiprock, New Mexico, Dine’ relatives of Baby Lucy conducted sweat lodge ceremonies for her.
Blackfeet/Wichita businessman Walter Lamar, a former national director for BIA Law Enforcement, made arrangements through TSA to allow for special cultural considerations for her flight home and worked out logistics on police escorts.
As the sun rose over the Sandia Mountains on October 17, a final blessing with family members was given before she started her final journey home to Minnesota. Baby Lucy was escorted to the plane by Cheyenne River Sioux Special Agent Travis LeBeaux, who stood guard as her casket boarded.
As a hunka (adopted) relative of Baby Lucy, I accompanied her home on the same flight with ceremonial items at the request of the family. Everyone, from the medicine people to the police escort to the Delta pilots and even the ground crew, were very respectful and honored the family’s requests.
Meanwhile, Lucy’s family began the two-day drive back to Minnesota in two cars with their three little children, cousins and grandmother. Back home in South Dakota, Debra White Plume shared a message to all who helped.
“Much respect to all who have made wocekiye and given comfort and helped with food, lodging, ceremony items. It is during hard times that people pull together to help one another, to enact traditional values like generosity and compassion. We so appreciate all the respect and honor that has been shown to Baby Lucy,” she said. “No one ever expects such hardships, and so the love and respect and comfort that has been offered to the family is very much appreciated and has helped everyone get thru this tragedy. Her suffering is over, and she is on her Journey now. Let us all be part of helping her go home to the Star Nation, to the ancestors in a good way, in the best way we can. Mitakuye Oyasin.”
In Minneapolis, a traditional Lakota wake was held at the Division of Indian Works with the Hoka Hey Singers offering honoring songs. Ceremonies were conducted by Jim Clairmont, a Sicangu Lakota spiritual leader and educator who taught school in Minneapolis for 21 years. He and his family also sang four Native American Church songs at the closing to honor the Keeswood family.
A traditional Lakota service was held the next day with Clairmont officiating, followed by burial at Hillside Cemetery.
The Camp/Keeswood family wanted to share a message of gratitude:
“There are no words to express our gratitude to all the people whose hearts Lucy has touched. Our hearts have been touched by all the prayers, love and support. There have been ceremonies throughout Indian Country on our baby girl Lucy’s behalf, and people from as far away as Norway have been reaching out to give us support.
We are so grateful to all of our family and friends, for all the help and encouragement that has gotten us through. We would like to send a special thank you to ICTMN readers for all the support, as well as many others who stepped forward and gave from their hearts to help us in our time of mourning.
No thank you will ever be enough, so we send our love, and hope you all know how close to our hearts you all are.”